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Hulu’s limited series Pam & Tommy tells the real-life story of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s sex tape being stolen by electrician Rand Gauthier and circulated via the internet in the late ’90s — but not every scene the series includes actually happens. In this week’s episode, Lily James’ Pam and Sebastian Stan’s Tommy find out that Penthouse founder Bob Guccione has acquired a copy of their sex tape, and — against Pam’s better judgment — decide to pursue a pre-emptive lawsuit barring him from publicizing the magazine in his tape. Exactly as Pam fears, the move backfires, and Guccione decides to publish the stills, earning them more publicity all around. So, did Anderson and Lee sue Penthouse in real life, and was Anderson really pushed into it against her better judgment? Read on for what we know about how it really played out.
In Pam & Tommy, Tommy pushes Pam to sue Guccione as soon as he hears he has the tape, telling her that Guccione will for sure run the photos in Penthouse in an attempt to one-up rival Hugh Hefner of Playboy, for whom Anderson has posed over a dozen times. He convinces Pam to consult their lawyers together, all of whom agree with Tommy that a lawsuit is the best way to go, even after Pam outlines her fear that Guccione will retaliate if provoked.
As Pam fears, Guccione is irate at the lawsuit and its implications for his “freedom of speech,” and promptly instructs his staff to pull “20 frames — the nastiest bits” for publication. The episode ends with Pam being notified that she’s being deposed in her lawsuit against Penthouse, and that she — and only she — will have to report for examination.
This episode (like last week’s) took a lot of liberties with the real-life details of Anderson and Lee’s story. Per the 2014 Rolling Stone article by Amanda Chicago Lewis on which the series is based, the first actual interaction between Anderson, Lee, and the Penthouse legal team was from a Penthouse lawyer who “promised the magazine wouldn’t publish any images from the tape.”
Nonetheless, the couple “started to panic,” Lewis wrote. “On March 29th, 1996, they filed a $10 million civil lawsuit against everyone they thought might have a copy, including Penthouse, Ingley, Gauthier, Tompkins, Sardell and Swing.”
While the details of the lawsuit are obviously changed in the series, the effect it has on public interest is faithfully represented in the series by the LA Times editor finally relenting on covering the story of Anderson and Lee’s sex tape and Jay Leno agreeing to include a joke about it in his late-night routine. In real life, too, Lewis described the instant effect their filing this lawsuit had on the media interest in their story.
“By the next day, news vans were parked outside of Ingley’s studio and Swing’s parents’ house. A sex tape had been stolen from one of the most famous couples in the world? Everyone wanted to know more.”
We don’t know for sure what private conversations Anderson, Lee, and their legal counsel may have had before deciding to sue, so we can’t say whether Pam & Tommy accurately represented how each party felt about the decision to take legal action, though Lewis’ article suggests both Anderson and Lee were concerned about the tape spreading. It certainly adds dramatic effect in the series to watch Pam be talked into the lawsuit against her will, only for it to go so drastically wrong, but there’s no real reason to believe that’s how it played out in real life.
One last detail this episode does get right, however, is the rivalry between Penthouse‘s Bob Guccione and Playboy‘s Hugh Hefner, a relationship written about extensively by many including Guccione’s own son Bob Guccione Jr. for The Daily Beast in 2017.
“My father hated Hugh Hefner,” he wrote. “Hefner hated my father. Both of them, for all their undeniable toughness and strength, were incredibly thin-skinned to each other’s criticisms and provocations…Hefner resented that my father was the usurper. My father resented that, even though Penthouse passed Playboy, he never vanquished Hefner, never replaced him in the American psyche as the Alpha male.”
New episodes of Pam & Tommy are released on Hulu every Wednesday at 3 a.m. ET.
How to watch Pam & Tommy for free
You can watch Pam & Tommy on Hulu for free by subscribing to either the ad-supported plan or the no-ads plan. With both plans, you can watch Hulu original and exclusive content any time you want for the first 30 days of your plan. After that, the price points will kick in. Hulu’s ad-support subscription means that you’ll watch your favorite shows and movies with some advertising interruptions from time to time. After your 30-day free trial, the $6.99/month (or $69.99/year) begins.
But let’s say you’re not particularly keen on having ads interrupt your viewing time. Hulu’s no-ad plan is just a smidge more expensive. After your 30-day free trial, the no-ad subscription plan will kick in at $12.99/month. There is no annual option for this plan. Either way, you’ll get to watch Pam & Tommy for free for the first 30 days of subscription. And you can cancel at anytime.
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